I could not believe my eyes. Uncle Basem knocked at our door in Shufat-East Jerusalem and called us to come look in his car.
"I have a surprise for you," he said.
Uncle Basem opened the back door of his car and tugged on a small a rope. Out came a lamb, cuddly, cute and eager to meet his "new family." He "baaed" a hello to us. I ran over to him and with all the energy and joy of my six years, hugged him and welcomed him, thrilled by this living gift, the greatest present anyone could give us.
"Here is your lamb, dears," said my uncle. "Happy Eid to you all."
The Eid is an Islamic holiday carried out to celebrate the end of fasting Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj. The Eid is a day of joy and family and love. While we may not hang green garlands tied up with red bows, we come together to delight in each other very much like Christian families I know in America who wade through snow to get to their grandparents homes on Christmas. In both cases, there is feasting, song, warmth and sheer delight especially for the children.
For me, getting a live lamb on Eid was a very special occasion. Nevertheless, the rest of my family did not seem very interested in the lamb. Instead, they were preoccupied with other Eid gifts : clothes, goodies and sweets.
My older sisters, Manar, said, "He is dirty and will mess up our yard."
My other sisters grabbed Manar . Giggling, the three ran back inside the house. But not me, I wanted to prove that the lamb was not dirty and would not ruin our yard. To me the lamb was as clean and lovely. I was sure I could make him tidy so he would not foul even a spot of the place where we played. I found a bucket and with the energy only a six year old could muster, I filled it with warm water and lugged it up to "my lamby." I brushed that little lamb so clean the coils of his fur became fuzzy and delightful to the touch. As I poured water on him, he started to shiver. I didn’t like that, so I snuck into the house, took a towel from our bathroom (imagine what my sisters would have said if they had caught me doing that) and with towel and my mother’s hair dryer in hand, I "saved" my friend from what I supposed would become a serious cold.
I nurtured my lamby with grass and grape leaves from our garden. "If this isn’t my lamby, at least, he is our family’s guest, and I will make him welcome," I said to myself.
Later my father came out into the yard and picked me up saying, "Come on, Samah, leave the lamb. It’s time for bed," I did not move from the lamb’s appointed place. It did not dawn on me that this happy, sweet creature, passively licking my hand and enjoying my little fingers integrating themselves into his coat was tied to our fence and ignored by everyone but me because he was, in effect, our prisoner.
The next morning, I woke up to the melodious Eid chanting coming from our mosque. I could smell Mom’s coffee brewing. I jumped out of bed when Mom called to me to get my hot milk and date-cookies, a specialty of the holiday. I didn’t wait to eat my holiday breakfast, but ran straight out into the yard, bare feet, pajamas and all. I went straight to the fence to see my lamby. He was not there. I ran into the house where Mom and my sister’s caught me up in hugs and kisses. "Where’s my lamby," I asked ?
"The lamb is our Eid sacrifice," my sister said. Uncle Basem and Dad took him to the butcher to be slaughtered. Many families do this at home in front of the whole family, but we preferred not to do this, especially in front of you, Samah." I ran to my room in tears. When Dad came home, he and Mom tried to explain the religious significance of the slaughtering a lamb. That is a commemoration of the story of prophet Abraham and his son. My parents spoke of sharing the lamb with the needy people. They told me that the killing was done in a very humane way so that the little lamb would not suffer at all and that his death would nurture all of us as part of our Eid feast. They told me it was an honor for the lamb to feed the people rather than to die from sickness.
Mother promised to get me another lamb to have as a pet, but I did not want another lamb. Nothing my parents could say absolved them of their "crime" against the lamb and against my love of that particular animal.
As I saw my family gathering at the dinner table eating the spicy tender meat of "my friend," I learned a lesson I have not since forgotten : that pain is the loneliest feeling in the world, particularly, the pain of loss.
I took my salad and bread and went off alone and very sad. In time, I began to eat and enjoy meat again, although I never quite learned to appreciate the Eid sacrifice that involves the destruction of a living being. There are times when a hint of guilt surfaces as I enjoy a good meal of meat. I well understand that lambs must be slaughtered to feed us and, at Eid, to provide a sacrificial reverence we humans need in order to maintain our relationship with a greater Being than ourselves. My head tells me that the meaning of a lamb’s life is to die for human benefit and so it is fitting and right that this occurs. My heart, however, reflects on what it meant to me to lose a friend and a momentary loneliness returns, quickly eased by the busyness that awaits me beyond my table.
On every Eid for years, my family would bring up the story of the lamb and my sisters would chide me and make fun of "my sentimentality." But this year, the Eid is different. This year, our people are the sacrificial beings of our world. We Palestinians seem to be born to die like lambs, sacrificed to feed the security needs, the righteousness and resentments of our oppressors. They tell the world that taking our land and our lives is God’s ordained plan and that, along with weapons provided by people far from our domain, makes their actions right. Few interfere, now that so much is said and done. Some watch and wait as our lambs are led to slaughter carried along by our own people’s determination not to give in or accept apartheid and loss that will leave a bitter loneliness in thousands of hearts for centuries to come, a repetition of our oppressors claims, but worn by us instead of them. I stop to think. As our young people die, do we, in reality, give in to our own selfishness in terms of resistance. Have we lost all sense of the value of our own humanity ?
Now justice is no more than confusion for me. My lamby died in honor to feed my family, the needy and allow us to thank God along the way. That was our sense of justice toward the animal.
It appears that the Israelis see killing us as right and just, a sacrifice they willingly make. We are the scapegoats used to honor their sense of what God, not to mention humankind, wants. Evidently, destroying our world and killing us eases the pain of segregation they say they’ve experienced throughout the ages. It does not seem to matter that they often choose to be apart from all the others and that they readily kill us to maintain that separation today. It does not seem to dawn on many of Jewish faith that they have the ability to use religion for evil just as much as any other group. Many Zionists say taking Palestine is their retribution against the world and they deserve to have this place.
To them, we Palestinians are the sacrificial lambs, the scapegoats–acceptable deletions from a world supposedly given to all of us, but now claimed by certain members of the Jewish faith.
During Hanukkah Jews all over the world lite candles to celebrate their connection with God and remembrance of their past. On Christmas my Christian friends celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest advocate of love and revolutionary forgiveness many of us know. And 28, we Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan and Hajj, honoring the God who sent the message of peace to make human life more meaningful than that of my little lamb.
Followers of all three of these monotheistic religions will, in their own ways, open gifts, enjoy feasts and sing about the Holy Land. How many, however, will wake on their holiday morn aware of our pain ? I’m quite sure that my family will not joke with me this year about the death of our sacrificial lamb or the bitter taste of being alone and in pain.